2Bangkok Situation Update: About Thai protests - April 30, 2010
The pro-Thaksin movement has been adeptly using protest to threaten the stability of the Thai state. While the immediate goals of the rallies are for very specific political goals, the recent protests have revealed a rural expectation of political inclusion. At the same time, an explosion of new methods of communication has made it easier for any group to express itself and has tested the bounds of polite discourse in society.
To understand the motivations of the rank and file protesters, it is useful to look at the nature of Thai protest in general.
2Bangkok has received many queries about the actual mindset of local Red Shirt groups in the North and Northeast. Some have discounted these groups as traditional hired ruffians who provide muscle for local bosses and there is no doubt that this sort of group has been utilized in the recent protests. These types of people make up the core of front line Red Shirts who attempt to break through police barricades and throw rocks and stones.
However, many rural Red Shirt groups are composed of locals who consider themselves pro-democracy people. Their organized clubs learn about Thaksin and democracy and train in various tactics (such as setting up blockades and attacking rival groups). Some of these groups were initially formed specifically to confront the PAD when the PAD staged rallies in the provinces.
That these organizations receive sponsorship and are organized by opposition politicians should not be used to discount their grievances or even their motivations. Aligning oneself (and one's local group) with powerful benefactors has always been a way for the average rural man to gain benefits for himself and his family--either directly or through handouts and improved conditions in his area.
These protest groups exert force in the name of justice. This is a natural outgrowth of Thai labor activity where, as a last resort after communication has ruptured and failed, people openly declare their grievances and march in public.
Their demands must be assuaged--even if only symbolically--and no manner of violent activity is out of the question until a sense of fairness is restored.
This is why a pejorative term like "mob" is commonly used to describe a protest group in Thai. There is no concept that protest is a normal and acceptable form of debate in a democratic society. Open protest (like marching on the streets) is seen as a negative symbol of the breakdown of polite societal discourse. Protesters thus have a right to be angry and act out violently as society has not been fair to them and forced this open and impolite public expression of opposition. It is this reasoning that the Red Shirt leaders have tried to foster at the rallies.
The events of the past few years have brought into glaring focus the fact that Thai society has not evolved a way to integrate open protest into its democracy other than in its traditional role as a last and angry resort.
Also, there is little value placed on international concepts of non-violence. While many foreigners somehow think non-violence is common sense, it is a very recent concept even in the West and it should not be surprising that it has yet to be integrated into the insular Thai culture.
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